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We can only improve our environment by engaging in its management

Can you imagine a company which only measures its progress and the satisfaction of its customers once every 5 years? We can’t expect local authorities to fulfill our expectations, if we don’t take an active role in the development of our communities and cities.

City mayors and county officials fight an uphill battle. They’re tasked with the development of some of the most complex organizations in the world, ensure that all public services and development strategies are managed with great care, but they lack some of the most important tools that their corporate colleagues rely on daily. And don’t think I only speak of the global metropolitan centers. A county with 35.000 inhabitants is an organization which has to balance 35.000 customers with vastly different expectations. They range from pensioners to some 3000 students, young families, 1500 unemployed people, customers with academic titles, and those with basic vocational educations. As if the situation wasn’t complex enough, they also have to balance the expectations of the citizens with the needs of businesses operating in the county, as well as tourists.

Companies which successfully execute their growth strategies constantly communicate with their customers. They notify their customers of new product releases and services on offer, gather information on customer satisfaction in relation to their products, support, customer services, and they gather improvement requests and suggestions. When we look at commercial organizations from afar, we can see that the primary mission of most companies is to solve customer problems, and ensure customer satisfaction.

On the other hand, city managers, mayors and boards struggle with an endemic lack of information. They only receive exhaustive feedback on their performance once every 5 years, and even then, the evaluations and muddied and overwhelmed by arguments, which are in no way relevant to their success as city managers. They’re forced to accept work evaluations in election campaigns, and this leads to campaign-based performance as well. You know how these things go, six months before the election, every other roadway becomes a construction zone – as if to say “Look! The mayor really is working to improve things”. Infrastructural projects, quality of life improvements and expansions of public services that were implemented 3 years ago often have very little influence on the electoral results.

If we wish to improve the quality of life in our cities, we have no other choice but to accept our cities as we accept our favorite brands. We have to follow their operations, development, and the projects taking place in the city. We have to clearly communicate our expectations and feedback to the city authorities. When a fire hydrant on our street is leaking, or potholes dot our access roads, we have to let the city management know. Only then can we evaluate the performance of city administrations. Grumbling about the issues that went unreported for months isn’t going to bring the improvements that we’d like to see in our environments.

Certainly, such statements beg the question – how can we follow the operations of the city and report our specific needs? Even the smallest companies follow up their customer service calls with a text message, asking us about our satisfaction evaluation. They certainly don’t expect that we’ll put in a concerted effort, find their number, and possibly wait on hold for a while, only to let them know that the customer service rep was a pleasant person.

If your county or city was managed like a company is, your expectations would be quite clear. Why have we all but accepted the fact that our quality of life in the cities we call our homes doesn’t deserve a similar level of care?

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